I can tell that the General Election is coming up, not by the campaigning of the politicians but by the ‘inspirational’ posts that keep popping up on my Facebook feed instructing me that I MUST vote because people fought for my right to do so. Whilst I may agree with this sentiment, I also have a big problem with it.
To every person who fought and suffered in their campaign to get women the vote I am truly grateful. I appreciate the fact that I live in a country where my opinion matters and I know that this would not be the case if those brave women had not campaigned and fought tirelessly until the law was changed. However, I don’t think their fight and the sacrifices they made should be used as a way of guilt-tripping women into doing something. What they fought for was the right to vote, not to compel every woman to use their vote.
By trying to force women to vote what people are actually doing is belittling the women who fought for us. We celebrate these women and are indebted to them because they were strong and independent, they had the guts to go out and fight for what they believed in and when they were told what to do, they did the opposite. So why do we use their example as a means of trying to control what women do now? As a way of telling women that they have a choice but they must make the right one otherwise they are disrespecting the people who fought for that choice.
When the UK introduced the law that allowed same sex couples to get married no-one expected every same sex couple in the UK to exercise that right. It was not seen as disrespectful to the campaigners for people not to get married because what was fought for was the right to choose. What was achieved was a step closer to equality. I believe we need to think of voting in the same way and respect people’s right to choose. If a woman makes the choice that she does not wish to cast her vote on May 7th then she should not be shamed, or told off, or have to listen to a lecture about the people who fought for her right to vote. Her choice should be respected.
I don’t think it is right that young women are encouraged to vote simply because they ‘should’. Surely it would be better if they were encouraged to vote because their opinion matters, because their vote has just as much right to be in that ballot box as any man’s and that their views are just as valid. They should be encouraged to take an interest in what goes on in the country and to fight for what they believe in, partly by choosing the candidate they feel represents their beliefs the best. Women should be encouraging each other to vote on the grounds that if they don’t then their opinion is lost and they have not had their say in who runs our country. If young women are encouraged to simply put an ‘X’ in a box because they don’t want to appear disrespectful then I feel we have not come as far as we should have in terms of equality. I believe this practice of telling women they must vote disrespects the women who fought more than choosing not to vote.
We should never forget our history as it is important that young women understand why and how we have the right to vote. However, in my opinion, those courageous women were not just fighting for the vote, they were fighting so that we could have our voices heard and our opinions matter. Even if that voice is saying “I choose not to cast my vote”.